Opinion

India, the Netherlands must develop more sustainable and inclusive business models

Marten van den Berg | Updated on September 17, 2019 Published on September 17, 2019

Collaboration is required not only to boost the respective economies, but also to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

In a few weeks, His Majesty King Willem Alexander and her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands will visit New Delhi, accompanied by a trade delegation of four cabinet ministers and 200-plus business delegates. This Dutch trade mission to India is one of the largest business delegations ever.

Growing Dutch interest

India is important to the Netherlands and vice versa. We all know that numbers don’t lie: the Netherlands is among the top 15 partners of India in terms of trade volume, and it is India’s fourth largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI). I believe and hope that the strong economic ties between our countries will deepen further.

The interest in India among Dutch companies is increasing, and rightfully so. India’s economic growth provides opportunities for Dutch innovation and technologies. We also see that apart from new companies entering the market, the existing ones are also keen on expanding.

Dutch companies like Unilever, Philips, Shell and DSM have been here for a long time and are increasing their presence in India. These companies value the talents of their Indian staff too: Abhijit Bhattacharya currently is the CFO of Philips, while Sanjiv Mehta is a board member of Unilever.

The Netherlands is keen to intensify its business relations with India to emerge as the country’s hub for doing business with Europe. As much as 20 per cent of all Indian exports to the European continent go through the Netherlands — making us the ‘gateway to Europe’.

However, the Netherlands is looking for a more ambitious relationship. It is not only about business, it is about developing together more sustainable and inclusive business models which need to play a large role in the success of achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While India and the Netherlands are strongly committed to the SDGs, both nations face huge challenges in agriculture, health and water. Both, therefore, have a lot of expertise to share with each other. They should build a strong collaboration around the global challenges. The DST-CII Technology Summit offers a great opportunity to strengthen already existing relationships on these challenges, but also to develop new ones.

Specific challenges

The Dutch delegation consists of businesses, knowledge institutions and government, travelling to India to scout for opportunities in the field of horticulture, healthcare, water and maritime resilience and high-tech. With the complementary talents, knowledge and resources of both countries are optimally positioned to create cross-cutting public-private-partnerships (PPPs), boost business and foster innovation-driven growth.

For example, the agricultural ecosystem in the Netherlands focusses on every step in the crop supply chain, and has developed an advanced agri logistics sub-sector. Some 15-30 per cent of agro produce in India is lost in the steps between crop harvest and market consumption. Indian and Dutch companies are interested in joining forces to ensure this supply chain improves at every step, yielding benefits to farmers and the market.

Apart from agriculture, Dutch water management companies are increasingly active in India’s ‘Clean Ganga’ project — using the Dutch system of organising water treatment as a best practice. Affordable healthcare is another field that companies from the Netherlands are keen on exploring. India is great at cost-effective innovation and that expertise is vital to ensure the sustainability of healthcare systems globally as they are under increasing pressure due to increases in healthcare costs.

Collaboration is required not only to further develop our respective economies, but also to achieve the SDGs. Working together, we can find new ways to make economic growth and sustainable solutions inclusive to all.

The DST-CII Technology Summit

The water-agriculture-health nexus is central to sustainable development in India. Demand for all three is increasing, driven by a rising population, rapid urbanisation and economic growth. The nexus approach identifies these three as central sectors, and advocates integrated management across stakeholders, thus moving towards a sustainable emerging economy. It is an approach that asks for partnerships — consisting of both businesses, knowledge institutions and government — to accelerate this process. And therein lies the value of cooperation between the Netherlands and India.

India and the Netherlands have been working jointly on innovative solutions to global challenges in healthcare, water and agriculture for many years. The cleaning of the Barapullah drain in Delhi is an example. Both countries have joined hands to generate safe water from sewage streams for reuse in agriculture, thereby relieving the water scarcity in the city — and making the river clean. This project could be the first real proof that reviving the Yamuna is possible.

Given Dutch technology and specialist knowledge, we are well-placed to contribute to other Indian flagship programmes like ‘Innovate in India’ or its smart city mission. Indian and Dutch companies have started consortia on new vaccines and affordable medical devices. At the CII-DST India-Netherlands Technology Summit, Dutch and Indian startups will present new ideas and technologies on the nexus of water-agriculture-health. These are examples of projects that show opportunities on Indo-Dutch co-creation through innovation.

India and the Netherlands share a long history of trade and investment. Now both countries should take their relationship to the next level and develop and deliver together solutions for the achievement of the SDGs. Global sustainable challenges represent market opportunities for companies able to develop innovative solutions. India and the Netherlands can and should work together to redirect public and private investment towards the global challenges.

The writer is Ambassador of the Netherlands in India

Published on September 17, 2019